Communities give red phone boxes new lease of life

The Porty Light Box. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
The Porty Light Box. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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Iconic red phone boxes which had been at risk of disappearing from our streets are being given a new lease of life thanks to some innovative community projects.

Two of the phone boxes have been transformed, with residents keen to keep them in use turning one box into a “Book Nook” while in Portobello the finishing touches are being added to the “Light Box” art gallery.

The Porty Light Box. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

The Porty Light Box. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

The Athelstaneford Book Nook in East Lothian, has become a popular resource in the village, with a sign inviting people to “Choose a book and leave another here! Don’t delay chose one today.”

The lending library with a difference was set up by local landscape adviser Krystyna Campbell, who used her own books to get the project off the ground.

She said: “The village is very small – just a street really, with a telephone box on it. We’re a very close community and people were already very much in the habit of lending each other books, so in the run up to Book Week last year it occurred to me that it would be nice to have a focal point for that, where people could pick something up whenever they liked.”

Krystyna kicked things off by leaving six of her own books and little over a year later visitors to The Book Nook have roughly 50 books to choose from on any given day, with many more in circulation around Athelstaneford.

An East Lothian council spokesperson said: “The Book Nook is an imaginative re-use of the obsolete village phone box by the local community and is proving to be a popular attraction.”

Athelstaneford is not the only area bringing some culture to it’s communications - The Porty Light Box, situated near the junction of Portobello High Street and Bellfield Street, is gearing up to launch as a hub for public street art.

It is the brainchild of architect Steve Wheatley, 46, who adopted the decommissioned red box from BT at the end of last year. Since then, transforming it into Portobello’s smallest arts centre has been a labour of love.

Steve said: “We raised about £1500 for the conversion through donations – some bizarrely coming from as far afield as Australia – but the actual physical work is being done by a very small team, so it’s taken some time.”

But that hasn’t stopped the project from lighting up the town.

“At Christmas we wrapped it up like a present and spray-painted details of the Portobello Christmas Festival on it. Then in January, a mystery knitter made a telephone out of wool and hung it up inside. Over the summer the box was repainted and re-glazed, and then earlier this week a local man named Tim Warren came up with the genius idea of creating lighting inside just by using a cardboard tube, aluminium foil and an LED rope light.”

Steve hopes to get the first art installations up within the next few weeks, commencing with depictions of spring flowers, created by school children at St Philips Church.

You can keep track of all the action by checking The Porty Light Box blog.